In 2019, The St. Louis Business Journal recognized Stolze Printing at the #1 printer in the St. Louis area by sales volume. The following article on “Why Print Isn’t Dead: A Conversation with Local Printing Leader Phillip Stolze” is an interview that was published in the Journal on August 16, 2019.
It has been 36 years since Phillip Stolze founded Stolze Printing in his basement, and today the company is a $26 million firm with double-digit annual growth. In conjunction with this week’s Largest Printing Companies List, we spoke with Stolze about how his company is helping keep the printing industry alive.
How did you come to start Stolze Printing?
My whole family has worked in the printing industry. I went to North County Technical School, graduated in 1973 for offset lithography, worked at a couple of small printing companies, and then got on at Mid-America Printing. I worked there for 13 years. We were the first printer to print the Rolling Stone magazine, and we printed a lot of the newspaper inserts for Target, JC Penney, Sears, etc. And when the St. Louis plant was slowly going downhill, I bought a small press and some other printing equipment, just to make extra money. I never intended to do it full-time. But they wanted me to relocate to one of the two other locations, and my family and I made the decision, we didn’t want to relocate. My nephew Dave Stolze and I decided we had this little equipment down in our basement — let’s go for it. So that’s what we did.
What is the company’s main area of focus?
We got into direct mail about 10 years ago, and that’s really what we focus on. Before that, we were an agency printer. We had our own accounts, but a lot of our work came from agencies. It was annual reports, corporate identity pieces — it was all very high quality. So we took that quality and went into the direct mail business. Now we’re printing many catalogs with a lot of model shots, a lot of clothing shots where the color and the clarity are very important.
How did you get into direct mail?
We started out printing business cards and note pads and NCR forms and letterheads and envelopes. But as we were doing this high-quality agency work, the industry changed. A lot of the things that we printed aren’t printed anymore, like annual reports. Now, some companies will print a small quantity of annual reports, but most of it is put online. So as that business went away, we knew that we had to switch, and we started investing into longer-run direct mail. We put in a lot of high-speed finishing equipment that can store, fold, glue, attach cards and inkjet the address all on one line at a high speed. We also put in two new 10-station high-speed inserters. Right now, we’re doing probably six to seven million envelopes that we’re inserting and shipping out every month. We’re doing it at 15,000 sheets an hour, and we’re getting really close to having to put in a third inserter.
Why are companies so interested in sending direct mail?
A lot of our business now comes from internet retailers. The best way for them to attract a new customer — the cheapest way — is through direct mail. They’ve tried TV, they’ve tried all the different types of advertising, and still the cost per customer is cheapest with direct mail.
What’s the future of the printing industry? Is printing dying? The printing industry is not dying; it is changing. The printing vendor industry has actually had some growth the last couple years. Now, there are a couple things that can cause concern. First of all, the printing presses that we have will do three times the work as a press that’s 20 years old. So the print manufacturers are actually eating themselves because they’re producing this equipment that’s much more productive — instead of needing three presses, you only need one. And where you’re seeing a lot of the downsizing in the printing industry is with the magazines and newspapers. Those seem to be more of a mature industry that’s going the wrong way. But right now, packaging is a great industry to be in. And for us, direct mail has been very good to us.
Rely on Stolze for your printing needs
Stolze Printing is always ready with an experienced team of printing and graphics experts to provide the highest quality for your commercial printing needs. Contact us today to discuss your project. Centrally located in St. Louis, Missouri, we serve clients across the country and Canada.